Last night “Southpaw” opened to a packed theater house and ended to an initial patter of clapping that grew into a resounding ovation, quite an anomaly in today’s movies. Indeed the ending was a humbling resolution to a character study that was quite emotional.
“Southpaw” is more of a modern day rendition of “Raging Bull”—a kind of Jake LaMotta meets Floyd Mayweather and all the grandeur that comes with contemporary boxing matches. The allusions and similarities are quite apparent in the opening moments of the movie. Though the beginning fight isn’t fixed, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is nonetheless the incarnation of the masochistic fighter played by Robert De Niro. In the words of Paul Schrader’s script “no matter how hard [Billy] is hit, no matter how often, he always staggers forward — like a bull.” Even in the corner of the ring, Billy’s trainer criticizes him just as Jake’s younger brother Joey (Joe Pesci) did. Jordan Mains (50 Cent) is the slimy manifestation of Salvy (Frank Vincent). Characters make a handful of heavy-fisted references to Hell’s Kitchen, the location of Raging Bull and Martin Scorsese’s hometown.
The choreography of character movement in the film is the most notable distinction between “Southpaw’s” earlier companion. The punches are timed to perfection, and they land with visceral delight. The final uppercut that planted Miguel Escobar firmly on his keister catalyzed a salvo of hoots and hollers from the audience. Additionally, the dance between Billy and the opposing fighters in the ring is something of a primal waltz.
The movie takes an original spin on the use of diegetic and non-diegetic music to evoke mood and themes just as Scorsese plucked songs from his youth to garnish his movies. The movie expertly uses Frank Ocean’s “Wise Man” to signify a number of different ideas like the fact that Maureen would be proud Billy changed his ways after her death and repaired his absent relationship to his daughter. (I would like to note that the ambience created in the theater when this song came on in the background to Billy’s loving embrace of his daughter was nothing short of romantic and tender). The Weeknd also makes an appearance, albeit an auditory one, in Billy’s consummation with Maureen. It seems like no one knew who he was a couple of years ago and now his music is ubiquitous.
The personal touches that have made what would have been good movies classic ones in the past are what make “Southpaw” such a satisfying movie. When Jordan makes a command to his security detail to walk out with Bill following a disagreement to ensure he doesn’t “break shit on the way out” was very clever. The scenes between Billy and his new trainer (Forest Whittaker) are some of the best in the movie. Also the shots of Billy roaring into the camera lens was primordially gratifying.
Even now Maureen’s (Rachel McAdams) death continues to haunt me. I just wish her death was on terms that would have criticized society in a bigger way than just another insufficient reason as to why we need gun control reform. All in all Billy’s relationship to his daughter resonates with me the most (just like Jake and Joey’s) and may even show a few of us the importance of cherishing the few people in our lives that mean the world to us…because they may be taken out of our world at any moment by something as arbitrary and as little as a bullet round.